The state of Himachal Pradesh lies just south of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, northeast of the Punjab and northwest of Uttar Pradesh. Tibet borders it to its east. Within its borders are both foothills and high peaks of the Himalayas. Because Himachal Pradesh offers the visitor lush valleys, roaring streams and splendid snow-capped peaks, it is popular with outsiders as a place for trekking, mountain climbing, sightseeing and, more recently, skiing. The religion is Tibetan Buddhism, and small shrines are often seen along the roads. The people are very friendly and seem both curious and interested in the few visitors they see. Not surprisingly, the gravel roads in the rural areas are winding ones and seem tighter than they are when buses come barreling along and want to pass.
There were seven of us -- three couples and a single -- visiting the scenic Tirthan Valley. All of us were from the USA except our friends from Delhi who are birders and are frequent summer vacationers in the area. To reach our destination, we flew in a commuter-type airplane from Delhi and landed in central Himachal Pradesh at the thriving town of Kullu. We then rode southward in two jeep-like vehicles along some twisting gravel roads for about three hours to our comfortable lodge located just outside the small village of Goshaini. The area is the starting point for the treks to Bachleo Pass and the Great Himalayan National Park.
The lodge, known locally as a 'bungalow', is located alongside the white-water, rocky river Tirthan. Some 15 metres behind the lodge is a pear orchard planted in terraces cut high up into the steep hillside. Many of the trees were blooming and added to the valley's beauty. We had to cross the river one at a time via a trolley consisting of an overhead cable with a pulley attached to our makeshift seat resembling a basket. This arrangement was installed and maintained by the lodge. The pulling of a hemp line by someone on the destination side provided us the locomotion to get across. We averaged about four crossings each day returning for meals and in between birding trips. Several times, however, we made a loop by walking along a path behind the lodge, crossing over the river on the bridge at Goshaini, walking back along the road and then re-crossing the river by the cable-pulley system to reach the lodge.
We found the weather delightful -- cool in the evenings and early mornings. And, we greatly enjoyed sleeping under blankets at night but if you wanted more heat, each room even had its own fireplace. On the other hand, the electricity was a bit temperamental as it was controlled by the town generator. We had both sun and clouds but no rain. A windbreaker or sweatshirt was sufficient during the day except the one day we went up to about 2,600 metres (8,500 feet) when we did wear winter jackets. Gloves and a hat were not necessary although we took them.
The Tirthan Valley, and its surrounding countryside, offers the birder a variety of habitats to explore, ranging from temperate vegetation up to subalpine forests. Although this narrow valley is dominated by the river knifing its way through steep rock-strewn cliffs, there are numerous patches of woods and shrubs, plus the human cultivation of apple and pear orchards and small farm plots. At certain places along the road we could occasionally see the snow-covered Himalayan peaks that were not too far away. Besides the seven of us and two drivers, a ranger from Jim Corbett National Park in Uttar Pradesh joined us on some of the days including the trip to the high country.
Birds are numerous enough but not the numbers of species as in warmer climes. After you have seen some of the more common birds you have to put in time just to pick up one or two new species here and one or two there. Some of the birds, such as the tits, do travel in mixed flocks so that helps. Birding alongside the river offers redstarts, Crested Kingfisher and a number of other species. Upon occasion an Ibisbill will appear along the river's stony shores but we were probably too late. And when out in the open it pays to look upward for a raptor such as Lammergeier or Himalayan Griffon, birds spotted within the valley. One bird that paid our lodge several close visits was the spectacular Gold-billed Magpie, and we later saw even more. At the higher elevations in subalpine and upper temperate zones in forests of oak, rhododendron, fir and hemlock (and with snow on the ground in the subalpine) we enjoyed gorgeous views of the Himalayas all around. It was not a surprise to find a number of new trip species including Eurasian Nutcracker, White-collared Blackbird and Black-and-yellow Grosbeak.
We did dip on one special bird in the higher elevations that we wanted to see. It was the brilliantly garbed pheasant, the Himalayan Monal. Late in the afternoon while the light was still good, we went to an area to look up the slopes of a grassy hill, an area where these wary birds supposedly come out of the woods late in the day. After waiting for about fifteen minutes we suddenly saw two men appear off to the left of the area we were searching. Each carried a long, old-fashioned gun. Fortunately, they were not carrying any birds. But nevertheless, it was unfortunate for us. We knew we would not see any Monals. It also explained why we saw several large Hindu signs in the valley with a painting of the Monal and words to the effect that these birds have a right to live as we. So much for the written word being helpful.
But, most important for all birders, overall the art work on the 153 plates is great, the species accounts are top-notch, and the introduction is helpful and thoughtful. It is our understanding that eventually the book will be converted to a true field guide, perhaps for each country, and be released in soft cover.
To get around the weight problem, we took out the plates and had them spiral-bound together. We did bring along the rest of the book to take advantage of its detailed descriptions and species accounts after being in the field.
Snow Leopards can be found as well as both Himalayan Black Bear (more common) and Brown Bears but all would be difficult to find unless one was willing to devote great effort -- time and expense. We did not even see deer or antelope but were not in the best areas for them, and we had seen so many in other locations in India that there was no need to try.
Note 1: We use a number for 50-100 birds
Note 2: Our field list was only a partial one for days 2 and 3 so numbers of the more common birds seen will be greater than shown below.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis (1) Great Grebe Podiceps major (1 or 2) Lammergeier Gypaetus barbatus (3, great views) Himalayan Griffon Gyps himalayensis (14) Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus (1) F Snow Pigeon Columba leuconota (2 on the ground) F Speckled Wood Pigeon Columba hodgsonii (several) Slaty-headed Parakeet Psittacula himalayana (2) Jungle Owlet Glaucidium radiatum (1) Crested Kingfisher Megaceryle lugubris (2) F Brown-fronted Woodpecker Dendrocopos auriceps (1, great view) F Yellow-bellied Fantail Rhipidura hypoxantha (1, nice views) F Gold-billed Magpie Urocissa flavirostris (12) Eurasian Nutcracker Nucifraga caryocatactes (1) Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhynchos (a number) Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii (6) Blue Whistling-Thrush Myiophonus caeruleus (at least 10) F White-collared Blackbird Turdus albocinctus (1sitting in tree) Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus (1 sitting in tree) Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassina (male) Gray-headed Canary-flycatcher Culicicapa ceylonensis (1) F Orange-flanked Bush-Robin Tarsiger cyanurus (male, great view) F Blue-capped Redstart Phoenicurus caeruleocephalus (male in the open) White-capped Redstart Chaimarrornis leucocephalus (at least 6) Plumbeous Redstart Rhyacornis fuliginosus (over 10) F Spotted Forktail Enicurus maculatus (1 near lodge) Common Stonechat Saxicola torquata (female) Gray Bushchat Saxicola ferrea (about 5) Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria (1 fairly close to road) F Bar-tailed Treecreeper Certhia himalayana (two pair) F White-cheeked Tit Aegithalos leucogenys (3 or 4) F Black-throated Tit Aegithalos concinnus (1, nice views) Himalayan Bulbul Pycnonotus leucogenys (4) F Black Bulbul Hypsipetes leucocephalus (about 10) Oriental White-eye Zosterops palpebrosus (several) Gray-hooded Warbler Seicercus xanthoschistus (at least 12) F Streaked Laughingthrush Garrulax lineatus (3, nominate race) F Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler Pnoepyga albiventer (adult and imm.) F Black-chinned Babbler Stachyris pyrrhops (3) F White-browed Fulvetta Alcippe vinipectus (1) Great Tit Parus major (1) F Green-backed Tit Parus monticolus (at least 10) Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus (several) Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus (a number) F Pink-browed Rosefinch Carpodacus rhodochrous (male, 4 females) F Black-and-yellow Grosbeak Mycerobas icteriodes (5 - 8) F Rock Bunting Emberiza cia (2 males, 2 females)47 species
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